Bluejays win thriller, 37-33
WILLMAR -- As Minnesota West quarterback Lon Garfield looked at the clock, he knew it was time to make a play. With only 22 seconds remaining in a crucial Southern Division football game Saturday, the Bluejays were a mere 19 yards away from victory.
WILLMAR -- As Minnesota West quarterback Lon Garfield looked at the clock, he knew it was time to make a play.
With only 22 seconds remaining in a crucial Southern Division football game Saturday, the Bluejays were a mere 19 yards away from victory.
On a drive that started on the MW 14, Garfield had already engineered a 67-yard drive in a little more than two minutes, but the Bluejays needed a few more yards.
Trailing 33-30, Garfield set up in a shotgun formation. After bobbling the snap, the sophomore quarterback rolled out to his left, found a crease in the Warrior defense and ran for the end zone.
"I felt the pressure and I rolled out," Garfield said. "I saw the gap and I just took it and scored. I bobbled the snap, but I stuck with it. "
Garfield crossed the goal line unharmed with 13.3 seconds showing on the clock. From there, Ridgewater could only take desperation shots down the field as MW rallied for a 37-33 victory.
"It feels great," Garfield said following the game. "We practiced really hard over the week, and they are a great team, but we are a great team also. They had a great running back, but we stuck together and played."
Highly touted Ridgewater running back Alex McLaughlin lived up to his hype. The sophomore had 331 yards on 40 carries.
"We had a couple of missed lineups and he broke a big run, but that was all," MW defensive back Henry Brunson said. "We still came out with the victory. It's better to come out with the team victory than the stats, anyway."
McLaughlin scored on a 4-yard touchdown run and a 90-yard dash.
"We keyed on No. 32 all night; that was our main objective," MW head coach Jeff Linder said. "He's still a super back. He made one move, and it was so fast. Our guys overpursued, and it was just open waters, and then there was no catching him. If you do have him, he's going to beat you up; he's solid."
While Ridgewater had 398 yards rushing and 20 yards passing, the Bluejay attack was the polar opposite. Garfield completed 23 of 41 passes for 322 yards and threw three touchdowns.
"During the week, I looked at the cornerbacks and saw that we could pick them apart," Garfield said. "It happens that we did."
Ridgewater (4-2, 1-1) was able to subdue the MW running game, but couldn't stop the air attack.
"We weren't getting the pressure with our defensive line and our secondary is weak right now," Ridgewater head coach Rob Baumgarn said. "We're missing our strong safety, and that kind of hurt us, too."
Travaris Pickens had 45 yards on eight carries, while James Sebea had 17 yards and a touchdown. Garfield had 53 net yards and a score.
While the Bluejay (5-1, 1-0) running backs didn't get the carries they normally see, Pickens and Sebea were critical in the MW victory.
"The running backs kind of had to swallow it a little bit and didn't get the runs that they wanted, but we knew that we could throw on Ridgewater," Linder said. "Our backfield, whether it be James or Pick, did a super job picking up blitzes. They gave Lon enough time to look downfield and make plays."
Ridgewater received the ball to start the game, and immediately began to move the ball down the field. Westbrook-Walnut Grove graduate Jake Wahl scored from 10-yards out as the Warriors had a 7-0 lead.
However, that lead wouldn't last long.
On MW's first play, Garfield rolled out to his left and found a wide-open Logan Korkow, who ran into the end zone to knot the score at 7-all.
"We wanted to spread them out," Linder said. "They blitz a lot, and we wanted to look short first and then look long. That first touchdown was set up just for Ridgewater. Even though they had a two-safety look, we knew they would bite on the run. The safety came up and Korkow came out of the tight end spot, and we set that play up for them."
Neither team could find paydirt until the beginning of the second quarter.
Facing a fourth and eight, Windom graduate and league-leading punter Brett Dumke went back to punt for the Warriors. Getting pressure off the outside, MW's Brunson was able to block the punt and send it back towards the Bluejay end zone. Dumke kicked the ball out of the end zone, giving MW a safety and a 9-7 lead.
"I just jumped over the guy and blocked the punt," Brunson explained.
With good field position on the ensuing possession, the Bluejays had a pair of dropped passes and were forced to punt.
"We had a lot of dropped passes for scores," Linder said. "It was hard to swallow. But I told the guys that you have to forget about it, and you have to play."
On Ridgewater's next punting situation, Dumke got the punt away, but the ball went off the side of his foot and netted negative four yards. From there, Garfield and Korkow hooked up again, this time from 24 yards out, as MW had a 16-7 advantage.
McLaughlin scored from four yards out following a blocked MW field goal and at halftime, the Bluejays had a 16-13 advantage.
On the Warriors' first possession of the second half, McLaughlin found an opening and raced 90 yards for a touchdown, giving Ridgewater a 19-16 lead.
After a long kickoff return by Pickens, Garfield needed one play to find Antonio Williams for a 17-yard touchdown, giving MW the lead back, 23-19.
"The guys stepped up pretty good today," Garfield said. "(Drops) happen, but we just have to keep fighting through it."
MW had another scoring opportunity on its next drive, but a fumble in the end zone gave the ball back to the Warriors.
As the fourth quarter began with the Bluejays clinging to a 23-19 lead, it was the MW defense that came up with a big play. Bill Blumberg intercepted a Walter Rochet pass and returned the ball to the Ridgewater 6-yard line. From there, Sebea found the end zone, and MW had a 30-19 lead.
The Warriors answered with a touchdown off a quarterback sneak from Rochet and, after the 2-point conversion, cut the deficit to 30-27. On the Warriors' next drive, Wahl scored from 31 yards out as Ridgewater had a 33-30 lead with five minutes remaining.
Needing three points to tie, Garfield scrambled on the first play of MW's drive and lost the handle on the ball, giving the Warriors the ball with 4:58 remaining.
Ridgewater was unable to run the clock out and, after a punt, the MW offense had the ball on its own 14-yard line, needing 86 yards for the score.
"This team, they just don't quit," Linder said. "I think our staff does a good job of reminding them that there is a lot of time left on the clock and we have to play."
On the arm and legs of Garfield, the Bluejays marched down the field to set up the quarterback's heroic run.
"I want to see on film where my mike linebacker was because he was supposed to be spying on (Garfield)," Baumgarn said. "Our mike linebacker is more of a fill linebacker, but you have to do what you have to do."
Ridgewater couldn't get anything going in the final 10 seconds as MW closed out its victory.
"That was one of the best football games that I've been a part of in a long time," Baumgarn said.
Brunson finished with 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a blocked punt.
"Henry did a great job," Linder said. "Henry is a player. He's such a competitor. We knew that with the running back they had, we had to put him at safety to help with run support because he will hit people."
With nine men in the box most of the night to stop the run, Mark Riley had 13 tackles to lead MW, while Corey Polz added 11.
"We played well, there were just a couple of miscues that kept us from doing what we really had to do and kept the game close," Brunson said. "But the offense prevailed, and the defense held up, so I'm proud of them."
Now in second place in the Southern Division, MW will return home to face a tough Central Lakes team Saturday.
"(This win) is going to give us a lot of confidence because we won our first division game," Brunson said. "We're looking forward to playoffs, but we have to take the next game first."
MW 7 9 7 14 -- 37
RW 7 6 6 14 -- 33